Tips for Breastfeeding a Child Who Was Adopted

It may not be for you, but it's worth looking into.

Candise Gilbert August 17, 2015
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I have two daughters, ages 9 and nearly 2. Both were adopted at birth and both were breastfed, almost exclusively, for a full year. My experiences were very different with each baby, but equally rewarding and enjoyable.

I am not exactly sure how I ended up in the adoptive breastfeeding world. It was a fleeting idea that took root, I suppose. I’m not a die-hard “everyone must breastfeed” individual, nor do I strongly advocate for it. However, I absolutely loved it, and you may too! You may also think it’s completely weird, and if that’s the case we can totally still be friends!

I’d like to share a few tips, a few things that I’ve learned over the years and along the way.  I’m not going to go into great detail about methods and protocols and medications in this article, though I’m always happy to share my experience and answer any questions.  You might learn something new, and you never know, it might spark an interest in you that will lead to something you will love forever!

1. Realize it isn’t for everyone. Really, it isn’t. It is extra work, effort, expense, and worry on top of the already present stresses of adoption and having a newborn enter your life. That said, for me, and those like me who love it, it is worth every bit of work, time, and effort.

2. Read, read, read, and then do what you feel is going to work best for you. I read protocols, I read forums (this was pre-Facebook), I read journals and blogs. I learned what it meant to induce lactation, and that yes, it is possible! I became familiar with products that would benefit me. I researched supplementers (milk delivery systems that can aid women with low or no milk supply). Then, armed with as much information as I could find, I made my decisions by choosing the bits and pieces that seemed to make the most sense for me. Again, it will be different for everyone. I will tell you that I did NOT follow the most intense and involved protocol, understanding that my production wouldn’t be as great.  I was OK with that.

3. Be honest and seek support. Breastfeeding following an adoption was something I felt like I needed the support of my husband for. He needed to be on board and willing to be OK with this venture. I mentioned earlier that extra time, expense, and effort is involved.  I knew it was not something I could do with any resistance from my husband. I also understood that people would think I was weird! Some did, but more were accepting, and even curious! I also felt like it was important that I tell our daughter’s birth mother. We spent a considerable amount of time together prior to our daughter’s birth and I wanted her to know my plans. She was very supportive and even excited, which was very encouraging to me. Her mother and grandmother were equally as supportive and were thrilled at the decision I’d made to breastfeed. Their acceptance and support was very reassuring to me.

3. Jump in head first! This could be said about so many experiences surrounding adoption; breastfeeding was no different! I was privileged to be present for our oldest daughter’s birth. Though we all knew I would be breastfeeding, I had made it very clear that I was not at all concerned about her having a bottle in the hospital. I was in no way interested in inserting myself into those first few days in the hospital that belonged to the birth mother. I wanted her to have that time, and I knew we’d have plenty of time to figure out breastfeeding when she was a few days old.

I was caught off-guard when shortly after our daughter’s birth her birth grandmother said, “The best time to nurse is soon after birth.”  I was somewhat hesitant and felt a little self-conscious, but only for a moment! It was a very sweet experience, shared by those I greatly loved and cared about. The vast majority of the time in the hospital she took a bottle, and no, there was no “confusion.” She had no problem with either method of feeding and transitioned to breastfeeding beautifully when we took her home a couple days later.

When our second daughter was born, I mentioned to the nurse that I had breastfed our first daughter; without skipping a beat she asked if I wanted a supplementer. I did, and moments later I was breastfeeding a child that I hadn’t even known about hours before!  The nurses were incredibly supportive with our second daughter and even offered a lactation specialist! Both situations provided me opportunities to “jump in headfirst,” and I don’t have a single regret!

4. Know your motive. And know that it might change!  When I began researching and entertaining the thought of adoptive breastfeeding, I did it because I knew there were great health benefits in breast milk. I felt like if that was something I could provide, I would find out how and do my best to make it happen! And with effort and a little medical intervention, it CAN happen! I was thrilled to be able to provide that benefit for a child.

However, keeping up production when inducing lactation is significantly more difficult than it is when lactation occurs naturally following birth. When my first daughter was several months old, I realized that I was becoming unduly stressed about my milk production. I realized, however, that production had become a secondary motive for me. I loved the closeness and bonding I felt with my daughter. I realized that if my personal supply were to diminish, I could still enjoy the closeness and bonding using the supplementer with donated breast milk and/or formula.

Yes, I said formula. Though I loved breastfeeding, I’m absolutely not against formula! It was wonderful to focus more on enjoying the experience and less on pushing production. When our second daughter arrived unexpectedly I began nursing immediately with formula and a supplementer. There wasn’t time to induce lactation or be concerned about my personal milk supply.

5. Ask questions. Don’t be shy. Find someone that has experience and pick their brain. Talk to your doctor. If you, like me receive NO support there, ask another doctor, or a midwife. With our second daughter, I found a great Nurse Practitioner who was very helpful. Find a lactation specialist. I guarantee if you look hard enough you will find that incredible vein of people who are supportive, knowledgeable, and willing to help you every step of the way.

I wish you the VERY best of luck in your adoption endeavors. If adoptive breastfeeding has piqued your curiosity, I’d encourage you to learn all you can and decide if it is right for you. It was a fantastic experience for me. It is one of those “out of the box” chances that I’m SO glad I took. I welcome any questions that you might have. Good luck!

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Candise Gilbert

Candise is the mother of 2 darling girls and the wife of a fantastic husband. She became a mother through the miracle of adoption and parenting is her favorite job! She makes dinner every night, loves a good book, talks about adoption as often as she can, and tries to surround herself with fabulous people.


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